Author Topic: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?  (Read 958 times)

GeorgeWood

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Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« on: August 19, 2017, 01:46:24 PM »
For my own personal usage, I have built an add-in for Excel that automatically imports financial statement data (balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement line items) of public companies from a large investor serviceís website into a spreadsheet. The add-in replaces manually browsing the website and either copy-pasting the data I need or downloading a CSV file and importing it to Excel for using a VLOOKUP.

As some of you may know, there are data vendors out there who offer this already: deliver data either via Excel add-in and/or via API for Python and the like. S&P CapitalIQ and FactSet come to my mind, which are designed for the finance professional, also Morningstar and what I call "discount data vendors" like Calcbench or Intrinio. All of them are either outrageously expensive or cover US companies only (due to them crawling electronic SEC filings), and still cost a fair amount of cash. So, I wondered, canít I sell my add-in for a very affordable price to the public?

However, I expect the company operating the website the add-in uses wonít be happy. They, too, sell a subscription including an Excel add-in for a (very high) fee. However, I canít see me violating any part of their terms of use:
Quote
Subject to the terms of this Agreement, XYZ grants you a revocable, non-transferable, non-exclusive limited license to use those portions of the Service, to which you are granted access but only for your own personal, noncommercial use and not for any use on behalf of any third party. For absence of doubt, you may not use the Service to service, or otherwise perform work on behalf of, any brokerage, financial services or related person(s) or their clients.
Also,
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[Ö] you may not modify, copy, distribute, disclose, retransmit, sell, publish, broadcast, or circulate the Service, or any portion of it (including, but not limited to, any download or printed copies made from it) without XYZís prior written consent.

As I see it, I am not (re-)selling any of their data, but basically selling a piece of code. Once the customer employs my add-in, his computer downloads the data directly from their website without my interference or redirection. I intend to be completely transparent to the customer as to where the data really comes from. Of course, what my customer uses the add-in for (non-commercial or commercial uses), I have no control over and canít be held accountable for Ė right?? Also, as my customer pulls the data from the website and not me, I am technically not even party to the user agreement, or am I?

Am I being too naÔve? Can I expect trouble? Should I get a lawyer to look into this? Also, what ways of promotion can you think of? Getting financial data into Excel is an occasionally researched problem on quora.com etc., so I figured I could post answers including (among other things) a link to my (future) website. Any other ideas?

Thanks!
« Last Edit: August 19, 2017, 01:53:57 PM by GeorgeWood »

stashing_it

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Re: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2017, 10:26:27 PM »
I am not a lawyer, so I won't comment on the legal matters

It seems to me is that your challenges will be figuring out how to sell it, and then later to support it.   I'm not expert in selling software, so I don't have any specific suggestions.  But I would say if you think it's worth doing, then go for it and either figure out how to do online promotion or pay someone to do it
« Last Edit: August 20, 2017, 08:34:57 AM by stashing_it »
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With This Herring

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Re: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2017, 10:45:29 PM »
I am not a lawyer.

It seems to me that selling code designed specifically to scrape their website falls under commercial usage.  They specifically say not to copy, retransmit, etc.  I don't know whether you can get in legal trouble for it or whether they will stop at the local version of a cease-and-desist letter.  It is not like your code could be used for any other website (the SEC's EDGAR system that you mention, for example) that encourages free use.

If you do sell this code and it catches on and they cannot stop you quickly through your local legal system, they may change the layouts and code of their website in ways that could temporarily or permanently remove the ability of your tool to accurately import this data.  If they change things and you are able to rewrite your code to get it working again, will you offer the updated software to your existing customers for free?  For a further price?
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lexde

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Re: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2017, 06:47:55 AM »
I am not a lawyer.

It seems to me that selling code designed specifically to scrape their website falls under commercial usage.  They specifically say not to copy, retransmit, etc.  I don't know whether you can get in legal trouble for it or whether they will stop at the local version of a cease-and-desist letter.  It is not like your code could be used for any other website (the SEC's EDGAR system that you mention, for example) that encourages free use.

If you do sell this code and it catches on and they cannot stop you quickly through your local legal system, they may change the layouts and code of their website in ways that could temporarily or permanently remove the ability of your tool to accurately import this data.  If they change things and you are able to rewrite your code to get it working again, will you offer the updated software to your existing customers for free?  For a further price?
I'm an attorney and this is mostly correct. It's still commercial use even if it's just code. The company's product is, partially, collecting that data to view in one place. By taking their product and importing it somewhere else, even if you wrote the code, you're still using their product without permission for financial gain.

They could file for an injunction but I'd expect a pretty swift cease and desist letter from their legal team.

Although much more cumbersome can you pull that info from each institutions site? That may be a more viable workaround from a legal standpoint.

Spork

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Re: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2017, 07:01:58 AM »
If you do sell this code and it catches on and they cannot stop you quickly through your local legal system, they may change the layouts and code of their website in ways that could temporarily or permanently remove the ability of your tool to accurately import this data.  If they change things and you are able to rewrite your code to get it working again, will you offer the updated software to your existing customers for free?  For a further price?

I am unsure from the OP's description if he/she is doing web scraping or actually grabbing some more usable information (XML, web based API, etc).

As someone that has done a lot of web scraping for my own personal use... I will warn you: the layouts WILL CHANGE ALL THE TIME.  And the tiniest little subtle change will throw you for a loop. This has to be something you're prepared for.  You'll want some sort of alert of the change -- then you'll have to work out your code changes and redistribute it.

In short: I wouldn't bother if there wasn't some sort of JSON or XML or similar interface with a relatively known static interface.
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GeorgeWood

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Re: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2017, 10:26:53 AM »
Thanks for the responses, everyone!

I'm not scraping the website itself, but downloading a CSV via a web based API. I guess the risk of that structure changing in the immediate future is pretty low, and if it happens, I should be able to adjust the code and roll out an (free-of-charge) update to the add-in.

Quote
By taking their product and importing it somewhere else, even if you wrote the code, you're still using their product without permission for financial gain.
I'm not doing anything that couldn't be done manually. Downloading the CSV files and importing them to Excel can be done by anyone with a few mouse clicks. I'm just offering an automation of the process.

Would it change anything if I didn't charge a fee, but asked for voluntary donations if people liked it?

Grabbing the info from the companies themselves is impossible, unfortunately. The data isn't standardized at all, which is why the commercial data vendors charge so high a fee (I know S&P employs an army of MBAs in India who enter, check and standardize financial statements).

Spork

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Re: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2017, 10:51:44 AM »
I am not sure what site you're pulling from... but do know there are some similar examples.  For instance, in the linux/unix world there are a ton of libraries that read yahoo finance data.  (Perl, Python, etc)  They don't necessarily ask for financial donations, but they are widely shared/used.

Good to hear you're pulling CSV... that feels a lot more future proof.  They can still make it difficult to grab by renaming/moving objects around.  And I know that at least in the unix/linux world, often if they add javascript to the site, it can become painful if not impossible to fetch stuff.  (I used to have daily cfiresim simulations running and javascript pretty much killed that one.)
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GeorgeWood

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Re: Selling Excel add-in for financial data, trouble ahead?
« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2017, 02:15:58 PM »
I've found a similar, but much more extensive (and expensive) tool, Spearian. The author argues along the lines I was thinking, see here: https://jiripik.com/2016/06/25/legality-using-google-finance-yahoo-finance-data-custom-applications/

Despite the uncertainty involved, I have decided to go ahead and launch the website and product. If you're interested, here it is:
http://www.msfundamental.com/
(in case you're thinking about it, use the code ?mmm2017 to get it for 3$ instead of 12$)

I'll report back when I get the cease and desist letter...